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Writer-director Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal, who previously partnered up on Nightcrawler, take a creative step backward with Velvet Buzzsaw, an art-world satire/horror effort.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, an art critic losing his lust for the profession. His love affair with Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an art-house employee, gets confusing in many ways when she comes across paintings by a dead man in her apartment building. The paintings, which the artist literally put his blood into, have deadly consequences for those who gaze upon them.

Gyllenhaal is his usual sharp self, creating something funny without going for obvious laughs. Rene Russo is equally good as a ruthless art dealer—she’s willing to cut down anybody who gets in her way. The supporting cast includes Toni Collette, John Malkovich and Billy Magnussen, which contributes to the feeling that the film should be more than what it is.

And what is it? It’s sharp satire in its first half, and a sloppy horror film in its second. Velvet Buzzsaw is not scary by any means, and it tries a little too hard to be. Gilroy takes his eye off the ball, loses focus and wastes a promising premise and solid performances.

Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Louis Bloom is the very definition of serpentine in Nightcrawler, a scathing look at TV news and the lengths producers and stringers will go to for ratings and a payday.

Stealing wire fences and manhole covers for a living, and desperate for some real work, Bloom (Gyllenhaal) happens upon a car accident where an invasive cameraman is filming bloody footage for a quick buck. Bloom—an isolated man who spends his days studying the Internet—pawns a stolen bike, gets himself a crappy video camera and a scanner, and thrusts himself into the business of crime-footage videography.

He starts small, grabbing footage at auto wrecks and butting heads with Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a seasoned videographer who doesn’t like newbies treading on his territory. Louis eventually finds himself in the presence of Nina (Rene Russo), a bloodthirsty TV-news producer struggling to find her way on a low-rated station; she pays Louis a couple hundred bucks for his bloody footage. Against the wishes of her co-producers, Nina leads with Bloom’s video on the morning news, and an unholy alliance begins.

Bloom hires an assistant in Rick (Riz Ahmed of Four Lions), who clumsily navigates as they race through the streets of Los Angeles looking for carnage. Things escalate from filming car crashes and fires, to filming shooting aftermaths and other crime scenes. When things start to slow down, Louis becomes unrelenting in his attempts to find stories. In short, there is nothing he won’t do to get the footage. Nothing.

He’ll move bodies to frame a better shot. He’ll withhold footage from the cops after entering a residence to film murder victims. None of these actions, however, compares to what he will do in the event that an employee tries to negotiate for a raise. He’s a far cry from the puzzle-solving, earnest news investigator Gyllenhaal played in Zodiac. He represents the complete degradation of media from something sensationalistic into something that is pure evil.

Russo’s Nina is, in many ways, as psychotic as Louis. She is reckless, encouraging Louis to dig deeper and pushing him into more deranged territory. Russo hasn’t been this good in years.

Paxton, who used to specialize in wild-man, gritty roles before Twister and Titanic, relishes the chance to get down and dirty again. He only has a few scenes in the film, but those scenes are true standouts. Ahmed gives the sidekick role plenty of dimension. He gets the laughs when they are supposed to come—but he also manages to create a frightening tension in his showdowns with Gyllenhaal.

This is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who also penned the screenplay. Gilroy clearly doesn’t have a positive opinion of the broadcast-news machine. The folks putting together the news in this movie are something akin to cannibals and vampires waiting in the dark for a vein to be severed. Louis is a genuine movie monster.

Gyllenhaal lost a bunch of weight to play the greasy Louis, and he achieves a physical creepiness that matches nicely with his character’s infected soul. Louis is darkly funny, especially when he berates Rick or blackmails Nina. He’s also sinister and deeply scary in a very Travis Bickle/Taxi Driver sort of way. Gyllenhaal is excellent here; this is his second great 2014 performance after playing twins in Enemy. The guy is really stretching out.

According to Nightcrawler, gone are the days of dignified anchormen and heroic news gatherers. The tie-wearing talking heads and scrappy field reporters have been replaced by bloodsuckers and sycophants, with the likes of Louis Bloom leading the sick charge.

Nightcrawler is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

You can smell the fresh paint on the holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet highly commercialized entry in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The latest installment is a step below Kenneth Branagh’s goofy and grand first installment. While the sequel is not likely to piss off superhero-film fans, director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds, either. It’s an OK placeholder flick while we wait for the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he’s fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth.

As for bad brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who owns the role), he’s doing dungeon time in Asgard (a land seemingly named after a mini rock opera by Rush), largely because of what he did to New York City.

Things come to a head when ancient villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, who looks silly here thanks to his makeup) awakens from his slumber and seeks out a powerful dark force called the Aether. With this power harnessed, Malekith looks to cause some deep trouble during an event called the Convergence of the Nine Realms, which sounds like it could be the title of a secret third side to Yes’ Close to the Edge.

OK, I’ll stop making progressive rock jokes. 

Jane, inadvertently, gets herself involved in the universe-threatening activities, and Thor takes her to Asgard, where she meets the parents, Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). Odin wants his son to become king and marry a goddess, as most kings of the universe would want for their children. Frigga seems indifferent and happy to have some girl time.

Hiddleston might actually be out-cooling Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel universe. He’s a great talent, managing to make a malicious bastard someone who we strangely find ourselves rooting for. When Thor must call upon his nasty sibling for help in fighting Malekith, it’s one of those, “Oh, goody, goody!” moments that will have you rubbing your hands together with a sly grin on your face (perhaps confusing the person sitting next to you in the theater).

Minus Hiddleston’s excellent work, Thor: The Dark World wouldn’t be much of anything. Hemsworth is capable enough, but he’s starting to feel like more of a supporting player in the Thor movies.

I have read some fan chatter criticizing the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor, declaring that they have no real reason to be pining for each other. Here are a couple of good reasons: Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the most handsome man on Earth, and the tremendously beautiful Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster! I, for one, see no further explanation for why these two would want to see each other naked. Makes sense to me.

The credits, in keeping with Marvel tradition, contain two additional scenes—one a few moments into the credits, and another at the very end. One of them features Benicio Del Toro, and it is very weird. The other is actually the real end to this movie, so it is essential that you stick around.

As for post-Avengers Marvel movies, Iron Man 3 is far superior, because it did new things with its character and messed around with the format. Meanwhile, Thor: The Dark World, while worth seeing, is part of a franchise that has lost a bit of its heft.

Thor: The Dark World is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews